TAL: 500 shows later and going strong

Ira_bottleOdds are, if you listen to public media via radio or podcast, you know what TAL stands for: This American Life, the show imagined and hosted by Ira Glass.

Today at 11 am (and at 1 pm on Friday) we air the 500th episode of TAL, still attracting old and new listeners, still surprising us with stories from around the nation and the globe.

Is it like a parent being asked which child they love the most when everyone asks Ira which shows of the 500 are his favorites? Apparently, Ira’s not scared.

Ira Glass writes:

With our 500th show approaching, people keep asking me about my favorite episodes over the years.  Here’s a short list.

Some are listener favorites:

Notes on Camp


Harper High School One and Two



The Giant Pool of Money


Somewhere in the Arabian Sea – I love how funny and human-sized everyone is in this show.  It’s a surprisingly funny show about the war on terror.



Ira’s list of show titles ideas before settling on This American Life.

Switched at Birth – the structure of this show – where the whole episode you wonder how a mom could know for decades she was raising the wrong baby and finally, she answers it in the end – is perfect.

Break-Up – The standout story is Starlee Kine’s essay on breakup songs, which includes an interview with Phil Collins that’s so menschy and real, it changed how I saw him forever.


Babysitting – especially the interview with Myron Jones, which is the best interview I’ve ever done, mainly because he had so much grace and humor talking about his past.  Any question I could think of, he’d come back with an amazing story, which is rare.


My Big Break – David Segal takes a turn in the middle of this story that’s one of my favorite reveals in any radio story ever.


Harold Washington – How can you go wrong when the central figure in your story is funny and cantankerous and bighearted and idealistic and utterly pragmatic and on top of all that, totally charismatic?  If you don’t know who Harold is, be prepared for a treat.


Heretics – Carlton Pearson, like Harold, is someone they should make a movie about, for lots of the same reasons.  An idealistic preacher whose idealism costs him pretty much everything: the church he runs, his reputation, his fortune, nearly his family.


Some shows are favorites of mine for purely selfish reasons, because making those episodes meant something special to me.  For instance, putting together the memorial show for David Rakoff, or visiting David Sedaris in Paris in 2000, or having my mom on our first episode in 1995 (she died in 2003), or playing old tapes of my dad as a radio deejay in his 20s, or visiting Georgia over and over getting to know people and trying to get them to speak on the record about a small town judge, or getting a chance to talk about marriage at the end of the Rumspringa relationship story in What I Did for Love, or going to Medieval Times with a Medieval scholar I really liked, who’s since passed away, Michael Camille, or devoting an entire hour of radio to my own neighborhood diner.  Those shows:

Our Friend David


Americans in Paris


Act One, What I Did For Love


Act Three, Medieval Times, Simulated Worlds


Act Two, Accidental Documentaries


Very Tough Love


24 Hours at the Golden Apple


Then there’s the Christmas and Commerce show, which has David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries in it.  That story – first on Morning Edition and then on This American Life – was his first time on the radio and our first time working together.  Putting it on the radio changed my life as much as it changed his.


Ira_couchIt’s hard choosing favorite shows when you’ve made so many.  It’s like, you love different episodes for different things.  On our website we have lists of favorites, a short list of seven, a longer list of 62, and then – if that weren’t enough – a third list of eleven very early shows.  And sure, it’s lame that we can’t just come up with a succinct list of three.  But when you’re working on a show where the whole point is that you’re only putting stuff on the air that you really really love, you end up with a lot of shows you feel very strongly about.

– Ira


Check out this link to a Slate interview with Ira that includes three short videos of Ira on “The Art of Interviewing,” “500 and Counting,” and “Embracing Entertainment.”

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1 Comment on “TAL: 500 shows later and going strong”

  1. Bob Falesch says:

    During that Golden Apple show, I felt personally close to Ira Glass because that restaurant was also one of my Chicago neighborhood’s 24-hour diners as well. Having sat at that counter during all shifts, morning through graveyard and having been a “regular” for a while, I can say how beautifully Ira captured the essentials. TAL itself doesn’t need any added validation from from me, but on behalf of all the great shows, collectively, that are only brought to life because of public radio, I’d like to say “hear, hear” to NPR and its feisty affiliates.

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